A Bit of My Fibroid Story
One of the leading indicators that I was in perimenopause at thirty-eight was the sudden appearance of problematic uterine fibroids. No doctor, no my primary care physician, gynecologist, or internist, was able to tell me that the sudden spikes and fluctuation in my hormones, specifically estrogen, were due to perimenopause and the reason my fibroids became problematic. I eventually figured it out at forty.
At thirty-eight I began to have painful periods, bloating, PMS, clotting, and very heavy bleeding, which led to anemia. A visit to the gynecologist found that I had very small uterine fibroids. Immediately, the conversation went to management, which was fine because the goal was to alleviate the pain and discomfort.
A series of sonograms showed that the fibroids were buried in the walls of my uterus, which meant I was not a candidate for ablation and other therapies. The only other alternative, according to the team, was a partial hysterectomy.
My gynecologist who was female was in agreement and suggested I do the partial hysterectomy, and at the time I was like, let’s do this because this pain is unbearable. Long story short, two days prior to the surgery, I went for a pre-op visit for housekeeping details and to collect medications I was supposed to take in preparation for the surgery.
During the visit, a wave of apprehension and discomfort washed over me, and I told my doctor I was a bit nervous. To my utter surprise and disbelief, her response was, “I don’t know why women are so attached to their uterus, especially if they’re not having any more children.” I mean, the callous, thoughtless disregard was like a stab in my God-given uterus.
Say what? What did you say? Excuse me? Can you repeat that? Who the hell do you think you are? All things I wanted to say but not a word left my mouth. I was speechless. I felt disrespected, disregarded and dissed. Period. Needless to say, that was my last time seeing her (until she popped up in my instagram feed a month ago sharing expert advice for a well known healthcare brand), and I decided not to follow through with the surgery. Instead, I went in search of methods to manage the pain and discomfort and naturally shrink and rid my body of the fibroids. And I did. How I did it is another blog post.
In this blog, I’m delving into the unspoken connection between fibroids and perimenopause, shedding some light on this crucial aspect of women’s health. My hope is that you can learn from my experience and have some knowledge and conversation, if necessary, with your healthcare team.
So What Are Fibroids?
Fibroids are noncancerous (benign) tumors that take up residence in the uterine cavity, or outside or inside the walls of the uterus. Hence the term uterine fibroids.
They can range in size from a pea to larger than a grapefruit, and a woman can have one or several fibroids, each varying in size. For example, I had four. The largest was 3cm (now disintegrated), and the other three were 2 to 3cm (also disintegrating due to post-menopause). I’ll know the status on my next gynecological visit in two weeks.
For some, there are no symptoms associated with fibroids so many women are unaware that they even have them. However, some women experience a slew of symptoms, which can range from mild to extremely painful.
Discovering that you have fibroids can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. These benign growths in the uterus can cause a range of symptoms, impacting your daily life and overall well-being. What’s most surprising to me is that many women are unaware of the significant link between fibroids and perimenopause, the transitional phase before menopause.
Fibroid Symptoms Include
- Long, heavy periods, accompanied by lots of clots
- Stomach that feels sore to the touch
- Lump you can feel in your abdomen
- Pressure and or discomfort in the rectum
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Frequent urination
- Infertility and miscarriage
- Chronic pelvic pain
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, do see a doctor for further examination. Learn everything you can about what they are and the possible ways of treating them. Even if you don’t have any information when you do have a conversation with your healthcare provider, be comfortable and confident, and ask whatever question comes to mind. No question is a stupid question, especially when it comes to your health.
Perimenopause, also known as menopausal transition, is the phase when a woman’s body gradually prepares for menopause. It usually occurs in the late 30s or early 40s, but the timing can vary for each individual. During this time, the ovaries begin producing less estrogen and progesterone, leading to irregular menstrual cycles and hormonal fluctuations.
The Connection Between Fibroids and Perimenopause
While fibroids can occur at any age during a woman’s reproductive years, perimenopause can have a profound impact on these benign growths. The hormonal changes that accompany perimenopause can affect the development, growth, and symptoms of fibroids in several ways:
Fluctuating Estrogen Levels
Estrogen plays a significant role in the growth of fibroids. During perimenopause, estrogen levels can fluctuate wildly, leading to estrogen dominance in some cases. Elevated estrogen levels can stimulate the growth of existing fibroids or cause new ones to develop. And there was no doubt that my body was estrogen-dominant.
For women who already have fibroids, the hormonal changes during perimenopause can exacerbate their symptoms. Increased bleeding, pelvic pain, and pressure on surrounding organs may become more pronounced, impacting their quality of life.
As women approach menopause, the uterus undergoes changes in preparation for the cessation of menstruation. These changes can also affect fibroids, potentially causing them to shrink or remain stable in some cases. Thankfully, now that my body is in post-menopause and not producing as much estrogen, the fibroid symptoms have gone away completely.
Misdiagnosis or Lack of Awareness
The symptoms of fibroids during perimenopause can often be mistaken for regular menstrual changes or perimenopausal symptoms, leading to misdiagnosis or overlooking the fibroid connection entirely.
Navigating Perimenopause and Fibroids
If you are experiencing symptoms of fibroids during perimenopause, it is crucial to seek medical attention and communicate openly with your healthcare provider. Here are some steps to help you navigate this challenging phase:
See A Professional For Guidance
Don’t hesitate to talk to your gynecologist about unusual symptoms or concerns. They can provide accurate diagnoses and recommend appropriate management options.
Keep track of your menstrual cycle, noting any changes in bleeding patterns, pelvic pain, or discomfort. This information can assist your doctor in making a more accurate assessment.
Embrace a healthy lifestyle by incorporating a balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress management techniques. These changes can positively impact both fibroid symptoms and perimenopausal challenges. A total lifestyle change, which included lowering my body’s estrogen led to my fibroids degenerating.
Consider Treatment Options
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your healthcare provider may suggest treatment options such as medications, hormonal therapies, or minimally invasive procedures like uterine artery embolization or myomectomy.
There are also natural alternatives to consider, for which you must see a functional doctor. If your decision is not to do invasive procedures, don’t let anyone force you. Let your gut, your body, and sound medical advice be your guides. And, of course, partner with a team who is thoughtful and considerate of you and your needs, not one who is dismissive and callous.
Being aware of the connection between fibroids and perimenopause is super important for every woman approaching this transitional phase. Understanding how hormonal fluctuations can impact fibroids, will help you to take proactive measures to manage your symptoms and prioritize your health and well-being. Basically, if you’re in your late thirties or early forties and you have painful uterine fibroids, chances are you are experiencing perimenopause.
Remember, awareness, open conversations, seeking professional advice, and leaning into community are crucial in achieving a smoother journey through perimenopause and beyond. Empower yourself with knowledge, and let’s break the silence surrounding the link between fibroids and perimenopause.